PSJD Public Interest News Digest – May 26, 2017

by Christina Jackson, NALP Director of Public Service Initiatives & Fellowships

Happy Friday! The big news again is the proposed federal budget and the cuts to key domestic programs, including the Legal Services Corporation (LSC). And the ABA moves for summary judgement in its suit over Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) eligibility.

In lighter news — good luck to Florida attorney Mike Reed, who will run the equivalent of a marathon each day for 6 days to raise money for Jacksonville Area Legal Aid. You read that right – 6 marathons in 6 days! You can read more about this incredible feat below.

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • Legal Aid Ontario to suspend some refugee services July 1;
  • London Legal Walk raises record amount for legal services;
  • Michigan Indigent Defense Commission minimum standards approved;
  • Florida lawyer to run 6 marathons in 6 days to raise funds for legal aid;
  • Equal Justice Works announces Class of 2017 Fellows;
  • Nebraska Supreme Court appoints an Access to Justice Commission;
  • WWL Pro Bono Survey 2017 analysis released;
  • Thirty-two Attorneys General urge Congress to oppose elimination of Legal Services Corporation funding;
  • Some Republicans oppose defunding LSC;
  • Law firm leaders again urge Congress to fully fund LSC;
  • San Francisco public defender launches new immigration court unit;
  • Measures for Justice launches data analysis of justice system;
  • ABA moves for summary judgment in suit over PSLF;
  • Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants; and
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

May 19, 2017 – “A good chunk of the legal aid services for refugees will be suspended starting on July 1 as Legal Aid Ontario struggles to find 40 per cent in budget savings from serving the vulnerable group. It is too early to confirm what services would be cut from the refugee law program as a province-wide consultation is set to begin on Thursday, but three options are under consideration: suspending all refugee and immigration services when funding runs out in August and September; restricting the coverage to the representation of asylum-seekers in their refugee proceedings, such as filing claims and preparation for and attendance at hearings; or limiting coverage for asylum-seekers to the preparation of the claim only, but continuing to represent clients at the refugee appeals tribunal and federal court. ‘LAO has supported over-expenditures in the refugee program for a number of years and cannot do so any longer, given the increase in demand for services and LAO’s budget challenges in other programs,’ the agency said in the consultation paper posted on its website Friday. ‘LAO recognizes that this will have a serious impact on vulnerable clients and that difficult choices will regrettably need to be made to achieve a balanced-budget plan.'” (Toronto Star)

May 22, 2017 – “A record 700 teams took part in the biggest Legal Walk ever last night, before descending on Carey Street and the Law Society HQ in Chancery Lane for a party afterwards. Flanked by Society president Robert Bourns, Lord Chief Justice Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd told walkers enjoying a well-deserved drink in the Reading Room that they had helped to raise £800,000 towards free legal advice services — beating last year’s £740,000. Yesterday’s efforts ‘shows what lawyers can do for those who do not have access to justice,’ the Lord Chief Justice said.” (Law Society Gazette)

May 22, 2017 – “[Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs] Director Shelly Edgerton has approved the Michigan Indigent Defense Commission’s (MIDC) first set of minimum standards for indigent defense delivery systems. The minimum standards involve education and training, the initial client interview, experts and investigators, and counsel at first appearance in front of a judge or magistrate and other critical stages. Edgerton’s approval follows a thorough review and a public comment period. ‘This is an important step towards Michigan meeting constitutional requirements for the right to counsel and implementing an equal system of justice for everyone,’ said MIDC Executive Director Jonathan Sacks. Every court funding unit in Michigan is now required to submit a plan for compliance with the standards and a cost analysis to the MIDC within 180 days. The MIDC has regional managers located throughout the state, who will work with local court funding units to create plans to comply with the minimum standards. A second set of draft standards was recently published for comment. The next set of standards addresses independence from the judiciary, defender workloads, and qualification and review of attorneys accepting assignments in adult criminal cases. A standard on compensation is being developed and will be published for comment later this year.” (UPMatters.com)

May 23, 2017 – “Starting this Sunday, a Florida lawyer will run six marathons in six days to raise funds for legal aid. Mike Freed, a business attorney with the law firm Gunster, will be attempting this feat to support Jacksonville Area Legal Aid (JALA). Though funding legal aid is something Freed feels passionate about, the Freed-to-Run event had its beginnings in a friendly competition between him and his wife. Last year, human rights attorney Crystal Freed raised $40,000 for victims of sex-trafficking in India by holding a Bollywood-themed benefit. Mike Freed started to think about how he could out fund-raise his wife. He’s had a long-term connection to JALA, for whom he does pro bono work. Since the Great Recession, the need for legal aid assistance among lower and middle-income families in the area has risen sharply. JALA estimates that 48 percent of Jacksonville residents qualify for civil legal aid. Meanwhile, Florida is one of three states that provides no state funding for legal services. ‘Frankly I was just overwhelmed by the need that’s there,’ Freed says.” “Every morning for six days, Mike will start at a different courthouse—cheered on by anyone who manages to make it to the courthouse by 7:30 a.m.—and run his 26.2 miles. On Sunday, May 28, he will begin his journey at the Florida Supreme Court Building in Tallahassee. On Friday, June 2, he will finish at the Duval County Courthouse in Jacksonville, with the opportunity for friends, colleagues and well-wishers to donate $100 and run the final 5K with him. On the courthouse lawn from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. will be an event titled ‘The Finish Line—Celebrating Pro Bono Attorneys,’ with free barbecue and beer provided by sponsors.” (National Jurist)

May 23, 2017 – “Equal Justice Works today named its 2017 class of Equal Justice Works Fellows. Seventy-seven recent law school graduates, the largest class of Equal Justice Works Fellows ever, will launch their public interest law careers through this two-year Fellowship. These Fellows were selected from over 450 applications, which marks a 25% increase over the number of applications from the previous year. Each applicant teams up with a host organization, to apply for an Equal Justice Works Fellowship by designing a unique project to address an unmet legal need. Fellows in the class of 2017 will be working across the country to serve communities including veterans, immigrants, refugees, children with special education needs, transgender and gender non-conforming individuals, minorities, and victims of abuse. The Equal Justice Works Fellowship Class of 2017 includes graduates from 41 law schools who will serve at 68 nonprofit legal services organizations thanks to 75 law firm, corporate, and foundation sponsors, as well as hundreds of individual supporters.”(PR Newswire)

May 23, 2017 – “Our judicial system is based upon the principle that all those coming before the courts are entitled to equal justice. The Nebraska Supreme Court’s Strategic Agenda identifies ‘providing access to swift, fair justice’ as the first of six overarching goals of the Nebraska Judicial Branch. To further that goal, the Court has approved creation of the Nebraska Access to Justice Commission. The phrase ‘access to justice’ describes the ability of any person, regardless of income, race, ethnicity, gender, disability, age or language, to access and efficiently navigate our court system. The 24-member Nebraska Access to Justice Commission brings together representatives from all three branches of government, as well as community members, attorneys and legal organizations, educators, and representatives from organizations serving low-income Nebraskans and those with disabilities.” (KRVN)

May 23, 2017 – “Who’s Who Legal is pleased to present the results of its fourth pro bono survey. Once again, the survey was open to firms around the world of any size, and its goal was to provide insight into the efforts firms go to give back to the jurisdictions and communities they work in. Firms were invited to fill in a questionnaire detailing, among other things, the size of their pro bono departments; the overall engagement of partners, non-partners and trainees in the firm; the average number of pro bono hours conducted by fee earners; as well as details of the most significant projects firms took part in during the survey period.” “[W]e received strong participation from Latin America and Asia, but less from international firms, or those in Europe or the USA.” See the link for summary results. An analysis of the 10 top firms in the survey this year is available here. (WWL News)

May 23, 2017 – “Highlighting the need for legal services in low-income communities across the country, Attorney General Lisa Madigan yesterday joined with 31 attorneys general in urging Congress to oppose the Trump Administration’s proposal to eliminate federal funding for the Legal Services Corporation (LSC). The letter, sent to the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations Committees, notes that for more than 40 years, the LSC has provided critical funding to civil legal aid organizations that help residents across the nation to access vital legal assistance. LSC funding helps veterans and military families secure important benefits, supports survivors of domestic violence seeking safety, and assists families facing foreclosure and victims of natural disasters. LSC funding also fosters longstanding public-private partnerships between legal aid organizations and private firms and attorneys nationwide who donate their time and skills to assist low-income residents.” “Joining in sending today’s letter were the attorneys general of Alaska, American Samoa, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Northern Mariana Islands, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, Virginia and Washington.” (eNews Park Forest)

May 23, 2017 – “As the Trump administration pushes ahead with a proposal to get rid of the Legal Services Corporation — a federal agency that provides millions of dollars in grants each year for legal aid for low-income Americans — the White House faces opposition not only from Democrats, but from Republicans and corporate America as well. The president’s proposed budget released by the White House on Tuesday calls for a complete defunding of the Legal Services Corporation. The agency, which received $385 million this year from Congress, gives grants to 133 legal aid organizations across the country. Trump’s 2018 budget would provide $33 million to wind down its operations. The fate of the agency’s budget ultimately lies with Congress, though, and several Republicans in the House and Senate have already joined Democrats in opposing the cut. In a May 18 letter obtained by BuzzFeed News, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn — the second ranking Republican in the Senate — and two other Senate Republicans joined Democrats in urging the Senate Committee on Appropriations to provide ‘robust funding’ for the agency. ‘Recent research shows that civil legal aid is a good investment of taxpayer dollars, as it reduces clients’ reliance on other types of governmental aid and enhances their ability to participate in the marketplaces,’ the letter says. The other Republicans who signed the letter were Alaska Sen. Daniel Sullivan and South Dakota Sen. Mike Rounds.” (Buzzfeed)

May 23, 2017 – “Heads of more than 165 BigLaw firms — including Dentons, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP and Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom LLP — urged Congress on Monday to appropriate $450 million to the Legal Services Corp. for fiscal year 2018, even as the Trump administration has said it plans to shutter the organization. The letter came the same day as President Donald Trump’s fiscal year 2018 budget proposal.” (Law360)(subscription required)

May 23, 2017 – “A newly created unit of defense attorneys dedicated to representing immigrants faced with deportation began work in San Francisco’s federal immigration courts Tuesday. The new Immigration Unit in the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office, one of only three such programs in the country, is the result of a deal negotiated by Supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer in March. Mayor Ed Lee agreed to authorize the use of $200,000 in salary savings in the public defender’s budget to hire three deputy public defenders and a paralegal through the end of this year. Unlike in criminal court, immigrants are not automatically entitled to legal representation in deportation proceedings. However, studies have shown that detained immigrants with attorneys are six times more likely to win their cases. While San Francisco also provides funding to nonprofits specializing in legal aid to immigrants, the public defender’s office is intended to serve those already in detention, a demographic the nonprofits generally don’t serve. The unit’s attorneys are each expected to handle around 50 clients per year — a small portion of the estimated 1,500 detained immigrants who currently have court dates in San Francisco, around 85 percent of whom do not have attorneys.” (NBC Bay Area)

May 23, 2017 – “Measures for Justice launches today with deep data dives on more than 300 county court systems in Washington, Utah, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Florida, with plans to expand to 20 states by 2020. It pulls together the data that has traditionally remained hidden in ancient databases and endless Excel spreadsheets. Even with just six states included, the comprehensiveness of the platform surpasses anything similar that currently exists. Measures for Justice compiles granular data for 32 different metrics that indicate how equitable a given county’s justice system might be. The portal shows, for instance, how many people within a county plead guilty without a lawyer present, how many non-violent misdemeanor offenders the courts sentence to jail time, and how many people are in jail because they failed to pay bail of less than $500. It offers insight into re-conviction rates and never-prosecuted cases. Users can compare counties or filter information based on how certain measures impact people of different races or income levels.” (Wired)

May 25, 2017 – “The ABA filed a motion for summary judgment on Wednesday in its lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Education for its decision to drop some lawyers from the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. The federal suit alleges the department failed to follow statutory requirements and violated due process rights of the four individual plaintiffs, including two former ABA employees whose participation in the program was revoked. The summary judgment motion asks a judge to require the department to stop issuing retroactive denials and to restore the individual plaintiffs’ eligibility for the program. ‘The department’s arbitrary and capricious reversal of its prior eligibility approvals must be set aside,’ the motion says.” (ABA Journal)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:

Law Students in Action: “The Pro Bono Program & Clinic at The John Marshall Law School filed 245 petitions for expungements of juvenile criminal records over the last two years. The petitions were filed on behalf of 69 youths living in areas of the city of Chicago with the highest crime rates.  All of the petitions were granted, giving these individuals the opportunity to start their lives anew and putting them in a better position to succeed in life.” Congratulations on work very well done! (Econo Times)

Music Bonus! Music pick from the PSJD Fellow Delisa Morris.

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